Reaching the world by reaching the neighborhood : Friday, Feb. 25, 2005
February 25 2005 by Tony W. Cartledge

Reaching the world by reaching the neighborhood : Friday, Feb. 25, 2005
Friday, Feb. 25, 2005

Reaching the world by reaching the neighborhood

By Tony W. Cartledge
BR Editor

GREENSBORO - Stand on the porch looking out, and you'll see a budget motel, a defunct pawn shop and a strip club. Step inside, and you'll see the world. At Immanuel Baptist Church in Greensboro, worshipers gather within a stone's throw of the Greensboro Coliseum, and a heartbeat from China. Or Ethiopia. Or Laos.

Immanuel's willingness to embrace all peoples goes back to the 1960s, when local consciences were pricked by more than the civil rights movement - Curry Murray, a leader in the church's international ministry, remembers how black children from nearby homes used to play basketball in the parking lot with boys who had come for RAs, a mission study group for boys. When it was time for the boys to come inside for their meeting, they couldn't understand why their friends could not join them.

Paul Early, who served the church as pastor from 1959-1974, urged the church to move beyond segregation. He asked the deacons to officially open the doors of the church to other races. It didn't happen the first time, but eventually, the deacons agreed to crack the door and "seat" African Americans. In time, they opened the door wide to allow church membership, too.

Edith Lunsford and her late husband Thomas - the church custodian - were the first black members. They joined in 1967. Thomas became a respected deacon, and Edith remains such a beloved part of the church that fellow member Julia Hamilton describes her as part of the "glue" that holds the church together.

Early also instigated an outreach to international students at nearby college campuses, wanting them to feel welcome in a local church. Members provided transportation, taught English and offered an international Bible class.

Murray has been active in the program, called "Piedmont International Fellowship," from the beginning. Some of the first participants were from Jordan. "We taught them English," he said, "and they taught us Arabic." The program not only grew, he said, but inspired statewide campus ministries to internationals through the Baptist State Convention.

Today Immanuel Baptist shares its facilities with a large Chinese congregation, an Ethiopian church and a Laotian church. The international Bible class has members from 14 different countries.

CHOIR - The choirs from Immanuel Baptist and the Chinese church it hosts join forces to celebrate Chinese New Year.
On Feb. 13, the church celebrated the Chinese New Year with a joint worship service and a feast of Chinese food. Representatives from all four congregations participated, and when the worshipers were encouraged to sing "Holy Holy Holy," each in their native languages, it sounded a bit like Pentecost.

The church is currently in search of a pastor. Larry Thompson, who helped with the international ministry in the 1960's, came out of retirement to serve as pastor in 1998, and was asked to return as interim pastor after a second retirement.

Thompson has a passion for the ministry to internationals, but said finding a new pastor who shares that passion has proven difficult. Some potential pastors have also found the church's physical location unappealing, but church members don't back down on either issue. The church, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2006, is committed to ministry in the urban setting rather than seeking the suburbs, and wants to remain known as a church where people from every nation are welcome.

"Immanuel" means "God with us." The happy heritage of Immanuel Baptist Church seeks to make God's presence known to all peoples in a congregation where "internationals R us."

2/25/2005 12:00:00 AM by Tony W. Cartledge | with 0 comments

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